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It's been a tough week for the New York Times.
But, while Jill Abramson's contract termination made the headlines, it's another revelation about the inner workings of the world's most respected newspapers that has caught my eye.
A leaked innovation report, commissioned by Abramson, makes recommendations on the steps the organisation needs to take to survive digitally.
It is a fascinating read that includes a series of recommendations that have far reaching learnings for anyone working with digital content.
Nieman Labs has a great summary and I've pulled out the ten areas that are likely to be of interest to digital marketers:
1. Forget the homepage
According to the report:
Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time: page views and minutes spent per reader dropped by double-digit percentages last year.”
Think about how user behaviour has changed and how digital strategies need to adjust to compensate.
2. Repackage and repurpose old content
We can be both a daily newsletter and a library — offering news every day, as well as providing context, relevance and timeless works of journalism...we floundered about for 15 years trying to figure out how to create a useful recipe database.
Better tagging is one solution cited here. Reuters apparently employs two people just to surface and repackage old or under-performing content.
With more and more content being created on a daily basis, businesses of all sizes could surely do a better job of recycling to create efficiencies.
The report recommends adding a follow button that allows readers to show interest in a specific writer or topic. A customised homepage is another suggestion.
Again, with more content and information out there, anything that helps us find (or serves us) the content that really matters to us now is likely to be successful.
4. Social sharing needs to be baked in
Less than 10% of NYT traffic comes from social compared to 60% for Buzzfeed. The report cites other publications where writers have to submit five tweets with every story they file and an incident where a NYT writer didn't tweet a major breaking story until two days after publication.
The report stresses the importance of having a joined up promotion strategy for every piece of content that goes live:
Our Twitter account is run by the newsroom. Our Facebook is run by the business side. Our approach would be to create an ‘impact toolbox’ and train an editor on each desk to use it. The toolbox would provide strategy, tactics and templates for increasing the reach of an article before and after it’s published. Over time, the editor could teach others.
5. Employees can be your best advocates (if you show them how)
The report cites NYT journalists who have done a great job building their social following but note that they were trained through the book publishing business, not the newsroom.
How many companies have processes in place to train staff and empower them to be social ambassadors.
6. Diversify content into other commercial opportunities
There is no reason that the space filled by TED Talks, with tickets costing $7,500, could not have been created by the Times. One of our biggest concerns is that someone like The Times will start a real conference program,’ said a TED executive.
Make your content work harder for you in new ways.
7. Make time
Giving development teams space outside the daily grind to really innovate and think about the future - “That helps explain why it took a group removed from the daily flow of the newsroom — NYT Now — to fundamentally rethink our mobile presentation.”
8. Build true collaboration
There's much discussion about the silos that exist within the business - newsroom, commercial, development, digital - and the struggles getting them to work together. That certainly rings true.
9. Fear of failure
For example, our mobile app, ‘The Scoop,’and our international home page have failed to gain traction with readers, yet we still devote resources to them. We ended the Booming blog but kept its newsletter going.
These ghost operations distract time, energy and resources that could be used for new projects. At the same time, we haven’t tried to wring insights from these efforts. ‘There were no metrics, no target, no goals to hit and no period of re-evaluation after the launch,’ said a digital platforms editor, about our international home page.
10. Give up the past
For a publication with the traditions of the NYT, getting out of old mindsets is perhaps the greatest, but most important challenge. How many businesses face exactly this struggle?
That means aggressively questioning many of our print-based traditions and their demands on our time, and determining which can be abandoned to free up resources for digital work... For example, the vast majority of our content is still published late in the evening, but our digital traffic is busiest early in the morning.
We aim ambitious stories for Sunday because it is our largest print readership, but weekends are slowest online. Each desk labors over section fronts, but pays little attention to promoting its work on social media.